Jane Wong: “Aphoristic”
Congratulations to Jane Wong, winner of the second installment of Poetry Northwest‘s writing contest, The Pitch. Of her winning poem, Jane writes:
I was moved by Zach Savich’s final question in the prompt: “What makes timelessness count?” Time in “Aphoristic” became a matter of recovery, of going back habitually to what keeps us timeless. Because, what more do we want than stability, than keeping time from moving away from us? When I was growing up, my mother relied on aphorisms and “life lessons” for everything. But her sayings were never quite right. There were mistakes in language (she was learning English), in memory, in laziness even. Suddenly, the idiom changed from “beating a dead horse” to “kicking a horse dead under the table.” Or she would say things like: “If you can’t walk, swim. If you can’t swim, crawl. If you can’t crawl, take the bus. Always keep going.” Funny as these mistakes were, I was always struck by their consequences. In messing up or tinkering with aphorisms or “timeless” clichés, time in this poem ends up deteriorating. Time becomes a completely shabby clock we can’t bear to throw away. Aphorisms no longer keep us fastened to the world. The more we use them, the more they lose their original meaning. And to keep them from feeling empty (or being thrown away), I wanted to reinvent these sayings as troubled, uncertain, and tangled ways of speaking about time. As I wrote, my relationship with time became strangely dependent on how I tweaked the next saying. From one line to the next, I felt a forward motion, as if I desperately needed more time. I think we all feel this desperation at some point, especially when it comes to language and loss.
If you stay, you will always make that face.
If you stay, a dog will bark and
a chandelier will break. A child will bite
another child, right on the nose. A lesson
learned will be a lesson worn, thread
barren. What is a good friend but
apology? As in: I need my old habits.
As in: I am sorry for the beetles littering
the ceiling, for keeping miserable
company. Truth is, I am nothing but
a close stranger, well begun, half done.
Having taken the bull by the sinking
ship. We both know when it rains, a snail
opens its eye. To see water seeking its own
level. To say there is no word for standing
in a windy field, looking at the back of the one
you love. Out of sight, out of sigh: an open
window. I once threw a stone into a glass
house and nothing happened. I threw it
again. If only to hope for you, if only to
waste not to want all too much.
Jane Wong is a recent graduate of the M.F.A. program at the University of Iowa and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in English at the University of Washington. She has been awarded a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship to Hong Kong and scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in CutBank, Mid-American Review, Word For/Word, Octopus, Versal, and Dear Sir.
Stay tuned in the coming months for the next Pitch, by poet Cody Walker!